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UW research center lends ag expertise to U.S. Army specialists


About the only time camouflage is seen near the University of Wyoming's James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center near Lingle is during hunting season.

But Army camouflage showed up in April and May when experts at SAREC lent their ag expertise to Army specialists headed to Afghanistan.

The specialists are members of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command based in Fort Bragg, N.C., and had traveled to SAREC from training at Camp Guernsey before heading overseas, said Jim Freeburn, director of operations at SAREC, which is managed by the UW College of Agriculture. One group came in April and two others in May to gain knowledge and offer it to Afghan producers.

"Small teams are sent out into rural Afghan communities to try and encourage agriculture development and rural sustainability," said Freeburn. "They'll plant trees, build fences and irrigation systems - they'll help anyway they can with production practices."

Every group had members who had been in Afghanistan or Iraq at least twice. "They were seasoned career soldiers and geographically diverse," said Freeburn. "There were people from Florida, New England and California. They were courteous, nice people. They didn't have any background with crop rotations, fertility or irrigation systems. They were pretty green on ag practices and came here for training."

The group SAREC economist John Ritten accompanied was concerned about farming in mountainous regions and the low fertility of the soil.

"The farmers there farm to feed the community," Ritten said, who is an assistant professor in the ag college's Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. "Every five to 10 years, they uproot and move because the soil can't grow anything. We focused on what crops would work. If they rotated crops, they could keep productivity longer than a five-year period. The interaction between plants and soil was our main thrust."

Information about nitrogen-fixing crops was also discussed, as was drip irrigation - both above- and belowground. "That seemed to strike them," said Freeburn. "They had never seen a drip irrigation system. They loved the drip system on shelter belts. That was something they could see working well. They can grow pecans, almonds, walnuts and citrus in Afghanistan."

They were also urged to test the soil and water to see what they are working with, said Jim Krall, research director at SAREC.

"You can get a better target of what crops you might want to grow," Krall said. "We handed out brochures from some of the work done over the years with peas, medics and forages. They enjoyed talking about drip irrigation. We ended up telling them if they needed more information to get back to us. I think we could be a good resource for them. I felt it was well worth our time to do it."

UW beef cattle specialist Steve Paisley was also part of the training.

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